Photo: Taco Bell

There’s much to enjoy about Nacho Fries: Retrieval, a new 60-second short film from the creative force behind the Josh Duhamel-starring Web Of Fries and its sequel, Web Of Fries II: Franchise Wars. Like its predecessors, much of its power comes from its brevity—all the pleasure of seeing an action movie trailer without actually having to commit to watching something that’s 151 minutes long. (That is the actual runtime of Armageddon, to which this film owes a great deal.) Yet despite the considerable presence of its star—and you can rest assured that James Marsden and each of his two cheekbones call on all the powers that they combined can muster—it’s difficult to shake the sensation that you’re not actually watching a piece of cinema. Loathe though this writer may be to spoil the ending, she feels compelled to warn you: This is not actually a film. This is a commercial.

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Marsden stars as Danny Conrad, a loving dad with a mysterious background in something related to interdimensional travel. The story begins as he sings a bedtime song, mournfully and creepily, to his young daughter Lily (Ariebella Makana), a plucky kid who’s seen too much in her short years on this godforsaken earth. (We know this because Lily’s mom is nowhere to be seen. Action movie law states that this is for one of two causes. One, she’s super dead, probably from a car accident viewed from inside the car in a jarring, violent shot, but also potentially from cancer or in a senseless murder carried out while Danny was off prioritizing his career over his family. Two, she remarried someone who doesn’t prioritize his career over his family and is also rich, but probably not quite as good-looking.) Then he’s summoned by a shadowy government organization to deal with a crisis only he can tackle: the disappearance of Nacho Fries. Working alongside approachably-hot-because-glasses scientist Elizabeth Ashcroft (Jocelin Donahue), he’ll chase the fried potatoes through space… and time, risking it all for the daughter he loves, who apparently really loves Nacho Fries.

Whoops, I guess I spoiled the ending.

There’s no reason that Nacho Fries: Retrieval should be a good film. It hits every cliché in the book, up to and including hazy, sunny shots of cherished memories about to be torn away, slow-motion walks in space suits, nice happy music used ominously, aggressive fonts and lens flare, and lots of staring off into the distance. And yet it’s so assuredly itself, so disinterested in eschewing the trappings of genre, and it’s nearly impossible not to find it appealing. It keeps a quick pace, tearing from cliché to cliché in a manner both fast and furious. It lacks only Tom Cruise breaking his ankle; in all other ways, it is a perfect action movie that is actually just a trailer.

Yet as mentioned above, it’s difficult to avoid the suspicion that this is actually just a commercial. Probably because it is actually just a commercial. Nacho Fries are back, but you already knew that. Enjoy James Marsden’s cheekbones.


Allison Shoemaker is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association. For more film reviews, visit our friends at The A.V. Club.

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